It’s not often we’d feature events from the European Tour and the PGA Tour when no Irish player was within an ass’s roar of winning, but two champions emerged from either side of the Atlantic on Sunday with stories that transcend geography.
First, it was little-known South African, Christiaan Bezuidenhout who defied odds of 80-1 to win the Andalucia Masters. I watched it to the end following our own tipping guru, ‘Doc’, who had selected the youngster at the start of the week, regretting my decision to overlook his wisdom. It was only after he sauntered to victory that I noticed the maiden winner’s stammer. It was different, endearing and wholly irrelevant to how I viewed him but when I read of its origins a couple of days later, it was hard not to be taken by his bravery in putting himself out there for the world to judge.
At just two-years old, Bezuidenhout picked up a discarded Coke bottle off the street and drank it. The bottle contained rat poison and the innocuous drink would change his life forever.
“The hospital had to pump my whole stomach to get rid of all the poison, but the poison affected the whole nervous system in my body, and one of the long-term effects of this led to me having a stutter. That stutter would eventually lead me to develop a severe case of anxiety,” revealed Bezuidenhout.
“This led to me becoming very introverted and depressed. Over the past four or five years it has slowly started to improve and I have felt more self-confident when speaking in front of people, but in previous years I would withdraw myself from everything and everyone.”
As well as seeing a psychologist to overcome his fear of public speaking, Bezuidenhout took beta-blockers to treat his anxiety. The medication slowly had the desired effect until a phone call, received while he was contesting the Amateur at Portrush in 2014, rocked the recovering youngster.
Called in for a random drug test that Bezuidenhout thought nothing of – even having disclosed the medication he was taking at the time – the South African was banned from competing for two years; a sentence subsequently reduced to nine months when it became clear he wasn’t using the beta blockers for performance enhancing benefits. Wrongly labelled a drug cheat by those too ignorant to find out more, his breakthrough win on Sunday is a fine example of why you should never give up in life, no matter the obstacles.
But if you think that story’s inspirational, step forward Nick Lashley who completed a wire-to-wire victory at the PGA Tour’s Rocket Mortgage Classic hours after Bezuidenhout’s win. No more than Bezuidenhout before him; many would have wondered who the runaway winner was when they tuned into SkySport’s coverage of the PGA Tour that evening. After finding out, Lashley would have swiftly won your heart.
In 2004, Lashley invited his parents and girlfriend out to watch him play a college event for the University of Arizona. Rod and Char Lashley and his girlfriend Leslie Hofmeister never made it home from that visit.
Nick Lashley’s life was turned upside down when all three were missing for three days before their bodies and the wreckage of their crashed plane was found near Gannett Peak in Wyoming. Understandably, Lashley immediately turned his back on the game.
‘‘Without my parents, I wouldn’t have started playing golf when I was little,’’ said Lashley, who took up the game when he was 8. ‘‘They did everything to help me have a career.’’
They say time is the ultimate healer but I’m not sure how anyone could ever get over that. However, in 2015, Lashley gave the game another shot. He tried his hand on the PGA Tour Latinoamérica circuit and somehow managed to rediscover his focus to ascend the world rankings once more. Last Wednesday, the 353rd ranked player got into the Rocket Mortgage classic by the skin of his teeth as a last-minute alternate. I wouldn’t say the rest is history, but let’s hope for his sake that it proves to be the first week of the rest of a long and happy life.